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“The Mandrill’s Smile” – Fiction by Michael Díaz Feito

Mandrill – Franz Marc, 1913

Jealousy & paranoia possess a married couple in “The Mandrill’s Smile,” Michael Díaz Feito‘s demonically dysfunctional short fiction from our Winter 2019 issue.

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PRESSURE IN THE NIGHT. There was a foreign presence, a stuttering breath in the drywall and a pulse in the warm carpet, and then the shock of shattered glass: A window broke in the bedroom upstairs where Lily slept. Helio jumped, rising from a jumble of half-conscious worries and from the couch where he’d been dozing off, bathed in the muted TV’s blue light. What’s his name, the monkey. He crossed the living room of the small townhouse in three paces, crouched by the staircase, and listened for another suspicious sound, or for his wife’s reaction.

Quiet. Nothing moved in the darkness at the top of the stairs. Helio knew that nothing without knowing and climbed toward it. He joined it and couldn’t see his legs or his feet in it. With each step, he felt weaker, like his knees might give, and his heart drummed faster, because he was so scared of it. The monkey wants to hurt our marriage. His hands tightened into fists. Sweat pooled on his back. It was hotter upstairs.

Helio’s eyes adjusted. Shards of glass glittered on the bedroom’s carpeted floor, and the night, jaundiced by a single streetlight, pressed through the broken window, as did the fronds of a royal palm. Lily wasn’t in their bed. She wasn’t in the room. But there was something else. A crib composed of bamboo slats rocked beside the bed. It shook because a shadowy baby shivered and kicked within it. The baby was a dense oval of darkness, and it seemed featureless, except for a curled upper lip, which exposed broad, flat, gleaming teeth.

It disgusted Helio. It wasn’t his baby. He retched and hid his face, afraid to look again, and dropped to his knees. His body went slack, releasing tension in spasms as he began to understand what he didn’t understand. Yes, it was a home invasion. The offender was demonic. It violently mocked him with those big teeth. And Lily, wherever she hid, had invited it. Why would she do this. Helio sobbed and pleaded with the bedroom.

A noise boomed outside. It moved closer. Soon it rustled the palm fronds, then the window’s shattered glass, and then the bedsheets. It became like a law-giving voice, which could have been the smiling baby’s, reverberating from the crib. Where your wife is, it seemed to say. I am that I am. Who she’s with. We are that we are. Do you?

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